The Mummy

"You better think of something fast, because, if he turns me into a mummy, you're the first one I'm coming after."

The Mummy, a (very) loose remake of the classic Boris Karloff horror film of the same name, was released 20 years ago today. To mark the occasion I've decided to a look back at this classic adventure film and explain why it remains my favourite blockbuster of 1999. Yes, I actually rate it higher than The Matrix. Look, it's great an' all, but does it have a scene where Neo scares away Agent Smith with a cat?

No, it does not, and that's why The Mummy will always be better.

Despite being savaged by critics upon release (its Rotten Tomatoes score is only 58%), The Mummy was one of the big hits of summer 1999, earning $415m worldwide. It was followed by two sequels, the CGI saturated mess that is The Mummy Returns, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which committed the unforgivable sin of replacing Rachel Weisz so I have boycotted it on principle. There was also a spin-off, The Scorpion King, a fun, but forgettable Conan knock-off which is little more than a stepping stone on the Rock's eventual path to global superstardom. There was also that reboot from a few years back with Tom Cruise, but we're not going to talk about that. The franchise may have crashed and burned, but the original film, well, the original remake of the original film, has endured amazingly and is probably more popular now than when it was first released.

Thousands of years ago, in the Egyptian city of Thebes, the high priest Imhotep is having it off with the Pharaoh’s mistress, Anck-su-Namun. When their affair is discovered by the Pharaoh, the pair murder him. Before they can be captured, Imhotep flees and Anck-su-Namun kills herself, knowing her lover will use that old black magic to resurrect her, which has to be the most extreme version of a trust exercise I have ever seen. Imhotep takes her corpse to Hamunaptra, the city of the dead and one of ancient Egypt’s top three tourist destinations, but is stopped by Pharaoh’s bodyguards before he can complete the resurrection ritual. As punishment for his crimes, Imhotep is mummified alive and cursed so that one day he will rise again as a super-powered zombie and bring about the end of the world. Why is it so many curses make the cursed super powerful? If Imhotep wasn’t evil this could almost be his superhero origin story.

Anyway, skip ahead a few millennia and Hamunaptra is now a ruin being guarded by the decedents of Pharaoh’s bodyguards, who are no doubt cursing their ancestors for their obvious shortsightedness. This might explain why they half-arse guarding the place. Instead of maintaining a full-time garrison to keep away any wannabe treasure hunters, they routinely leave the place wide open so any idiot can just waltz in. So, really, they've got no one but themselves to blame when a curious librarian decided to have a flick through the Book of the Dead and start waking up mummies.


The Mummy is the closest anyone has ever come to recapturing the joy and spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is by no means that film's equal. Raiders was made by one of cinema's greatest craftsmen, while The Mummy was made by the guy responsible for Van Helsing and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the action scenes, which are often unremarkable and a little too reliant on sometimes dodgy CGI for their spectacle. Fortunately, though, the film succeeds in spite of this obvious handicap.

What The Mummy might lack in amazing action and effects, it more than makes up for with lots of great humour and some amazing heroes. I really have to give Sommers some credit here; he might not be a great director, but he wrote a fun, breezy script that doesn't takes itself too seriously, but avoids slipping into self-parody. It's also endlessly quotable. The quotes section of this review will probably give War and Peace a run for its money.

But at the end of the day, it's the characters that make this film what it is. They are why I keep coming back to it again and again, why I occasionally bother with the sequel, and they are why I will always prefer this movie to The Matrix. That film might have groundbreaking special effects and some exceptional action sequences, but when it comes to its heroes... well, let's just say that Neo is a character best suited to Keanu's own unique brand of minimalist acting.

The Mummy, though, is blessed with a fantastic central trio in Rick, Evelyn and Jonathan, all brilliantly bought to life by Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah. Sommers really hit the jackpot when he cast those three. There have been many pretenders to Dr. Jones' throne over the years, but Rick O'Connell is the only one that ever seemed like a serious contender. Evelyn is the brains of the entire operation and while the story often places her in the damsel in distress role, she never, ever feels like one. And Jonathan is essentially the anti-Jar Jar, a comic relief who is genuinely funny without having to resort to cheap laughs or silly pratfalls. He may not be as heroic as Rick or as smart as his sister, but when the fighting starts Jonathan is always there to help out and if you need some ancient Egyptian translated in a jiffy, well, he'll try his best.


Notes and Quotes

--The name Ardeth Bay is a tweaking of Ardath Bey, the alias Imhotep used in the original. The character was originally meant to die, but test audiences liked him to he got a reprieve.

--While all the heroes are great, Imhotep himself is a pretty flat villain. He's mostly just an excuse for the FX department to show off.

--Difficult not to think of Scooby Doo when that American loses his glasses.

Beni: "O'Connell! Hey, O'Connell! It looks to me like I've got all the horses!"
Rick: "Hey, Beni! Looks to me like you're on the wrong side of the RI-VEEER!"

Rick: "Well if it ain't my little buddy Beni. I think I'll kill you."
Beni: "Think of my children."
Rick: "You don't have any children."
Beni: "Someday I might."

Evelyn: "I know, you're wondering...what is a place like me doing in a girl like this."

Hangman: "Any last requests, pig?"
Rick: "Yeah. Loosen the knot and let me go."

Jonathan: "Americans."

Rick: (a spooky wind blows through Hamunaptra) "That happens a lot around here."

Evelyn: "Look, I... I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell, but I am proud of what I am."
Rick: "And what is that?"
Evelyn: "I... am a librarian."

Jonathan: "Imhotep. Imhotep."

Evelyn: "I will give you one hundred pounds to save this man's life."
Hassan: "Madame, I would pay one hundred pounds just to see him hang."

Rick: "I only gamble with my life, never my money."

Evelyn: "Patience is a virtue."
Rick: "Not right now, it isn't."

Evelyn: "You swear?"
Rick: "Every damn day."

Rick: "Well, you probably won't live through it."
Winston: "By Jove, do you really think so?"
Jonathan: "Well, everybody else we've bumped into has died. Why not you?"

Evelyn: "Abdul? Mohammed?... Bob?"

Evelyn: "Oh, I've dreamt about this since I was a little girl."
Rick: "You dream about dead guys?"

Rick: "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."
Evelyn: "The only thing that scares me, Mr. O'Connell, are your manners."

Evelyn: "You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance."
Beni: [laughing] "Really? They do?"
Evelyn: "Oh, yes. Always."

Beni: (Translating) "Come with me, my princess. It is time to make you mine, forever."
Evelyn: "For all eternity, idiot."

Rick: "Mummies!"

Three and a half out of four wrong sides of the RI-VEEER!

Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I have never seen this movie. I didn't even realize there might be a good reason to watch it, either. Thanks, Mark. :)

Chris said...

Thank you! I completely share your love for this movie and agree with everything you've said: I enjoy it much more than the Matrix, which I haven't rewatched nearly as much, agree that this film is the closest to capture the spirit of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, and that the main trio of characters are just a joy to watch. The sequel is also alright with me, and I think that mostly has to do with the fact that we get an encore of the characters.

Now you've really put me in the mood to rewatch it once again :D

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved this movie and still do. Rick, Evelyn and Jonathan were the best. I think I saw it three times in the movie theater. It was funny, adventurous and a absolute delight. The sequel was good too.

Anonymous said...

I adore this movie. Ardeth Bey was one of the best things about it. But the hero and heroine and sidekick are lovely too. It never fails to thrill.
mazephoenix

Robin said...

I am completely onboard with your love for this movie. It straddles the line between action-adventure and horror beautifully (speaking as someone who doesn't care one bit for the latter).

I highly recommend the Special Edition DVD if you don't own it already. It has three commentary tracks on it, one with Brendan Fraser commentating solo and one with a charming ensemble trio of Oded Fehr (Ardeth Bay), Kevin Jay O'Connor (Beni), and Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep). They're delightful.

NomadUK said...

I absolutely love this film, and agree with every word in the review. And, yes, dropping Rachel Weisz is reason enough to boycott anything.

Aaron Studer said...

You hit the nail on the head, for a while I could never pinpoint what it is that makes this movie quite re-watchable. It's effects are downright cheesy, but it has wit, it has suspense, and it's incredibly quote-able for me.